I have been mulling over EVE and pondering why PvP sandboxes seem so much easier to set up than PvE ones. It’s related to why competitive games are easier to set up than co-operative ones. With EVE in particular, the griefing culture isn’t purely down to character progression since there are plenty of choices in how to play the economic and PvP game, not all of which involve scams or griefing.
Partly it’s due to the content issue: players will happily compete against other players when dropped into a sandbox. Some will happily continue to compete in the similar scenarios ad infinitum. It’s cheaper and easier for players to entertain each other than to need a constant stream of PvE content.
But it’s also because people generally only co-operate when they don’t have a choice. Many enjoy co-operating in groups but if they didn’t need the group then they might not join in the first place. Competition seems to come more naturally to us, maybe we’re socialised into it.
The internet in general has been friendlier towards strongly co-operative games than you’d expect. This I think is because the early adopters were blown away by being able to interact online with other people from around the world in real time. Our first inclination was not to try to fight them, but to get together and build stuff. That’s the culture in which early MUDs and MMOs were born. And it’s also no surprise that so many early designers had been avid roleplayers — pen and paper RPGs are one of the few breeds of tabletop game that are genuinely co-operative. I suspect that culture will be seen as an anomaly.
Those of us who have been able to play games online where grouping was strongly encouraged, where co-operation was part of the game’s culture, where players were inclined to trust others until they did something to prove untrustworthy, and where people were prepared to put their own interests second to be part of the group have been privileged to be part of a gaming culture that is vanishing. Even though those games may have been deeply frustrating at times, they represent a very unique experience.